This is my first official race report. Though not your typical blow by blow race report. Instead I wanted to share why I thought Northburn 100 was an unforgettable experience.
When it does come to 100 mile races, I’ll admit to being a little superficial, it is all about the bling! In 2009, my first 100 mile race was Hundred in the Hood. This was
Oregon’s first 100 mile race conducted along much of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) south of Mt Hood. Belt buckles were given only to those runners finishing in less than 24 hours. I knew a sub 24 hour finish was not possible, so it was my love affair with the PCT (and not the bling) that spurred me on to train and complete my first hundred mile race. However, in the 13 (out of 15) 100 mile races that I have completed, I will admit, an eye catching finisher’s belt buckle can entice me into signing up for a particular race. In all truthfulness, Northburn was no different. When my friend, Robyn Lui told be about Northburn in 2012, I was instantly drawn to the beautiful buckle. However, Northburn is so much more than testing one’s limits for a piece of metal. The following includes several elements on why Northburn is the epitome of why I got hooked on running ultramarathons.
We Are Family
Northburn 2014 saw 113 runners toe the line to run either the 50K, 100K or 100 mile (161K) distance. The men’s 50K winner, Sage Canaday, and women’s 50K winner, Sandi Nypaver, finished in 4:45:46 and 6:08:21, respectively. As a result of spending several hours with like-minded athletes, it is hard to not forge special friendships. Northburn is no exception to this element as it maintains an intimate closeness as runners set off to cover the same terrain and tackle similar goals and obstacles. At the 6am race start, Race Director Lisa Tamati encouraged the small field of runners to look out for each other. Becoming part of a family is one quality that encourages runners to become repeat offenders of a particular race (return in the future to run the same race again).
Being One with Nature
When you are spending hours out in the elements, it is hard not to bond with your surroundings. For many, this is the appeal that trail running offers. We have the opportunity to live on a pretty spectacular planet with a
wide variety of inhabitants (both in the form of plants and animals). I love having the chance to marvel at the splendor that this world has to offer.
In the past, Northburn has been plagued with high winds and freezing temps with snow flurries at the higher course elevations and hot temps in the start/finish areas (which the 100 mile runners pass through three times by the time they finish). However, this year’s event had moderate winds and warm temps at the higher elevations. I am familiar with running in hotter temperatures, however, the heat did get to me on Sunday morning and forced me to rest at an aid station for 20-30 minutes before continuing to complete the last 23 K of the course. (After reflecting on my condition, I think it was my over-caffeinated state more than the heat that forced me to take this break. See my blog entry Experiment of One – Part Two for more details.)
Kindness of Stangers
Where’s Waldo 100K (2007) was my first race beyond the 50K distance. The second half of the course occurs in remote areas. This not only makes it more challenging for a runner to consider dropping out of the race at this point on the course (you’d still have to hike out), but it also requires a huge commitments from volunteers working this area. To this day, I still find these acts of unselfishly providing assistance and support to runners an amazing aspect of the human spirit. As a result, I try to give back when I can by also volunteering my services.
The Northburn course is designed so that you pass some remote checkpoints more than once, however, in a span of ten and more hours. The 100 mile course also has a 48 hour time limit. Many of the checkpoints rotated volunteers in and out in 12 hour shifts and some were operated by only one person (Course Marshall). Every Course Marshall, aid station volunteer and volunteer medic that I encountered was helpful, encouraging and excited to see me making progress. Northburn would not be successful if it weren’t for the wonderful dedication of these volunteers.
Power of the Body
My first 50K was Siskiyou Out Back in 2003. I have learned A LOT in the past 11 years and I am still amazed at the power of the human body. I believe that we are built to run. I also believe it is how we choose to furnish our cockpit (our brain) that determines how well we perform the task of running. Our own messages, mantras and vibes play as much a part of what we can accomplish as does the fuel we choose to put in to our bodies.
As many women, I have been a victim of dysfunctional body image issues at different points in my life. However, when I am able to complete a course like Northburn, I am able to continue to marvel at the abilities of my body. I have learned to respect my shape and appreciate that my success as an ultrarunner is only possible because of the way I am built.
More than a snazzy belt buckle, a race’s location is a much bigger factor when I decide to shell out my entry money. Turns out you can take alot of an area in when you
spend one or more days traipsing across its terrain.
Northburn is located in the unique setting of Northburn Station, a vineyard/high country merino station that overlooks Cromwell’s Lake Dunstan and surrounded by incredible views of the Pisa Range mountains. The terrain in the first 26K change dramatically with runners running a 5K loop through the vineyard before climbing 21K through high country 4WD tracks, along steep fence lines and across a moon scape looking environment filled with tussock grasslands, cushion plants, lichens and golden Spaniards. By the end of the first 50K loop, you return to the vineyard area only to be forced out and back up to the high country two more times before finishing.
The terrain, the climate and views are constantly changing throughout the course. You won’t find the Northburn course listed in Lonely Planet.
Being a Role Model
Of the 45 runners who started the 100 mile distance at Northburn, only 13 of them were women. It is hard not to feel a sense of empowerment when you are one of a few awesome females who are willing to toe the line. I am also a mother of two daughters. As an ultrarunner, I hope to serve as a role model to them. I’m not obsessed with them becoming runners. Instead, I hope my running antics provide them the confidence that they too can conquer/pursue anything.
It’s a Tough Course
However, I will say, “YES, the Northburn course was tough.” Was it the toughest I’ve ever seen? To be truthful…I can’t recall. Call it selective memory? When I ran Pine to Palm in 2011, I remember thinking that it was
the toughest 100 miler I had finished to date. However, Pine to Palm was also my fourth 100 mile race.
Northburn, like other tough 100 mile courses, keeps coming at you and offers few breaks from its steep climbs, descents, and technical terrain. Northburn rightfully lives up to its motto, “You don’t race it, you survive it.” To top it all off, don’t expect the race organizers to hold your hand on this one! Two weeks before the race, the Northburn Facebook page was full of photos of the course being marked. However, this didn’t mean organizers were out clearing loose rock off the trail, cutting a path through the golden Spaniards, trimming back the sweet briar bushes or assembling buffets of food for the two aid stations stocked with food. No. Northburn requires runners to run with not only mandatory gear, just in case of a sudden change in the weather. It is also important for runners to maintain their wits and keep a good eye out for the course markings, especially at night and along the Water Race. The start/finish and TW aid station were the only two aid stations stocked with food, which consisted of boiled potatoes and pumpkin soup. Water was offered at checkpoints and from several creeks along the route. Electrolyte was also supplied at some checkpoints, as well as any goodies a generous Course Marshall may have provided on their own. Otherwise, surviving Northburn was all up to the runner!
Northburn is a Hardrock 100 qualifier
I’m still trying to get past the Hardrock lottery. I am thrilled to not only have a qualifying race for the 2015 lottery already under my belt, but having survived such a tough race has increased my confidence that I can take on a race like Hardrock.
Northburn has all the elements of a great race and as with all great races, Northburn offers the runner the opportunity to learn and grow. I have grown as a runner and been privy to witness the accomplishments of others. It doesn’t get better than that.